Did Canadians burn down the White House?

As a Yank living in Canada, I often find myself in good-natured debates with my Canadian friends about our respective countries. After the obligatory discussion of tax rates, beer, and climate, the Canadians invevitably pull out what they consider the ultimate topper: “Watch out. We burned down the White House once, and we can do it again!”

Of course, they’re referring to the events of August 24, 1814, when British troops burned the White House and other buildings in Washington during the tail end of the War of 1812.

It seems to be a firmly established piece of Canadian folklore that Canadians were the ones who put the torch to the Executive Residence. If you doubt this, do a Google search on “Canadian burn White House” for a lengthy list of patriotic Canadians who assert this as fact.

There’s just one problem with the story. I can’t find a single bit of evidence to back it up.

To be sure, Canada was part of the British Empire at the time, and British troops did burn Washington. But it’s clear that when my northern friends say “we,” they don’t mean “troops of the Empire of which Canada was then part.” I mean, it’s not like they go around boasting that “we colonized India” and “we defeated the French at Trafalgar.” What they mean is that actual Canadians, i.e. people born in what is now Canda, reduced the presidential palace to a smoking ruin.

However, I can’t find anything that suggests troops from Canada were there at all. The only reference I’ve found so far was in a CBC TV documentary on the War of 1812. It said that the troops who took part on the raid on Washington had just been transferred from fighting Napoleon in Europe. That would tend to suggest that the troops were born in Britain, not Canadians.

I need conclusive proof one way or the other, though. Did Canadians burn the White House, or is it just wishful thinking on their part?

Here’s the first web page I found with any actual history of the units involved


It appears the attack was under the command of British Navy Rear Admiral Sir George Cochrane, and executed by the Royal Marines.

IIRC, the British used plenty of mercenaries, but the Royal Marines were the elite force so I really doubt there were any Canadians in the force.

I just posted a similar thread a few minutes ago, and scrolling down afterward I find yours. I’m ashamed to say that I am not as familiar with the actual makeup of the units involved as Chas.E seems to be, but my question isn’t really dependant on that. But I’ll tell you what; let us have an all-Canadian world series before the Expos move and we’ll just forget all about those nasty times. Let byegones be byegones eh?

Hi Rat, and welcome to SDMB.

Users of the SDMB are in the business of debunking urban legends, not promoting them. The Canadian urban legend about the White House is false, even if “every canadian schoolkid knows” about it.

You can find many of the answers you seek in that other thread by browsing the offical White House web page at

you wanna make a Canadian mad? Remind him he’s from the fifty-first state.

Two Canadians were sitting in a bar. Canada being so boring, they said to each other “hey, let’s play twenty questions!” They agreed, and Canadian #1 thought of a phrase: “Moose cock! He’ll never get that!” he thought. So Canadian #2 thinks of a question “Can you eat it?” he asks. Canadian#1 thinks for a moment and says “Well, I guess so.” Canadian#2 says “Is it moose cock?”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA okay that wasn’t funny. never mind. sigh I want to move to Canada. I hate the US. Help me.

Q; What’s a Welsh rarebit?

A; A Cardiff virgin.

Teehee chuckle snort gag sputter barf.

Trade ya? You come live in Toronto and I’ll move to Cape Cod. Those who don’t live here call it ‘the city that works.’ Those who do live hear are tired of hearing it. Scuuuuuse me, I have to go chip the ice off the car now…

Funny, I was a Canadian schoolchild and we never learned this “Canadian burned down the White House” nonsense.

It’s probably just issue confusion; Canadian troops did win some battles during the War of 1812; there was a battle in which the White House was burned; so you combine the two and come up with Canadians burning down the White House.

I’ve got to echo RickJay–as a Canadian schoolchild, I learned that it was the British who burned the White House.

The confusion could also stem from the fact that technically, there was no such person as a “Canadian” until the 20th century. It took Confederation in 1867 to create Canada; and a few laws, most notably the first Citizenship Act of 1947, to create Canadian citizens. Prior to that, we were “British subjects,” as the background to Bill C-16, The Citizenship of Canada Act states:

It may be stretching it, but logically, it demonstrates where the confusion could have begun: if those born in what is today’s Canada were British subjects, and the British burned the White House, then…

But we know that those from Canada didn’t participate in the attack on Washington. A little closer look at history would benefit your friends, Wumpus–there is a good overview of the battles in the War of 1812 at this site. It talks about the activities of such Canadian units as the York Militiamen and the Voltigeurs, but nowhere does it indicate that anyone except the British–those from Britain, that is–attacked Washington.

I’m with RickJay and Spoons on this: I was a victim of the Canadian school system, and it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I heard about (or is it aboot?) Canadians burning down the White House. It done by the British, as part of the War of 1812.

Here’s my guess as to where this myth arose: The burning of Washington was generally considered to be in retaliation for the burning of York and the parliament building there. No doubt people wonder why the British would do this. Wouldn’t it make more sense for a Canadian to get revenge?

We were also taught that the burning of the parliament building was an accident. But after reading up on it, I get the impression that it was a deliberate act of arson.

Nope, I can see it from here. :D:D:D


And why, pray tell, did they decide to call y’all Canadians? Why not Canadans?



FYI, I finally found a web page with the history of the Royal Marines involved in the sacking of Washington.


It says that Royal Marines serving in the garrison of Lisbon were transferred to the colonies. Another Marine battallion was transferred from service in Holland .

These forces were definitely not Canadian. In fact, I found a web page that said after the raid on D.C. most of the Marines were transferred to Canada, to protect the poor cowardly defenseless hosers from getting their asses whupped again.

Thanks, Chas E! Your links will come in handy the next time the subject comes up. Of course, some of my Canadian pals are so steadfast in their beliefs, they’ll probably demand that no members of the Royal Marines were born in Canada…

Major General Robert Ross, one of the commanders of the force that occupied Washington in 1814, was born in Dublin, Ireland. Therefore, we can blame the Irish for burning down the White House, the Library of Congress, and the other federal buildings.
The USA got even, though. Ross was killed in battle on the way to Baltimore a few weeks later. Come to think of it, he is buried in Canada. Does that make him a late Canadian?

Please check # 27 on this site :smiley:

Why do you call us “Cajuns”? :slight_smile:

Yes they did burn down the white house in 1814 here are some links to prove it http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/10/12/catching-curator-white-house-fire-1814



Did you read this thirteen year old thread before adding your inaccurate 2 cents?

British troops burned down the White House, they were not Canadians. And if they do it again tomorrow they’ll be zombies, and still not Canadians.

You know what a Canadian Zombie’s favorite food is?

Poutine. What the hell did you think?